The Canberra Raiders will finally get a shot at revenge when they face the Sydney Roosters in the grand final rematch on Thursday night.
The Raiders’ bid for a first premiership in a quarter of a century ended in heartbreak when they lost to the Roosters 14-8 in last October’s decider at ANZ Stadium.
It was a controversial affair, with the Chooks’ two tries coming following contentious refereeing decisions.
Sam Verrills’ try came minutes after a Luke Keary kick was charged down and then ricocheted off one of their trainers.
The second came when the referee signalled six more tackles for Canberra with ten minutes remaining, only for Jack Wighton to be forced to turn the ball over after he had been tackled.
On the next play, the Roosters broke out of their own half, with Daniel Tupou sprinting down the eastern wing and then throwing the final pass to James Tedesco who finished with a 20-metre run to the tryline, ensuring the Chooks became the first team in 26 years to successfully defend a premiership in a unified competition.
It also denied Ricky Stuart a second premiership as a coach, 17 years after he led the Roosters to the 2002 premiership as a rookie.
Despite the result, Wighton won the Clive Churchill Medal.
In 2020’s original fixture, the Roosters and Raiders were to have met in Perth in Round 11, however the reworked fixture has them playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground – 284 days since the decider.
This marks the longest wait between a grand final and the ensuing rematch since 2002-03 – after the Sydney Roosters defeated the New Zealand Warriors in the 2002 decider, the two teams didn’t face each other again until the penultimate round of the 2003 season – 329 days later.
It will be the first time Canberra play at the SCG since their 1987 grand final loss to Manly, which was their first appearance in the summit match since entering the competition in 1982.
And while the Tricolours have called the SCG home while the old Allianz Stadium is rebuilt, it will be the first time they play at the ground this season after it was deemed not to fit under Phase 1 of the NRL’s return to play policy.
The Chooks have won their last ten matches at the ground, their previous loss being in Round 1 last year, to the Rabbitohs.
In the meantime, Trent Robinson’s side temporarily played their home games at Bankwest Stadium, and have only lost one match since the season resumption in May – a thrilling, golden-point loss to the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium in Round 9.
Last week, Matt Ikuvalu made the most of his late call-up, scoring five tries as the Roosters thrashed the Cowboys 42-16 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in their first match in Townsville since 2016.
On the other hand, the Raiders have lost three of their last four matches to sit seventh, and have been decimated by injuries to key players.
Last week, they crashed to a 20-14 loss to the Melbourne Storm at home, losing Josh Hodgson and Bayley Simonsson to serious knee and shoulder injuries respectively in the process. The pair join John Bateman, Corey Horsburgh, Sia Soliola and Emre Guler on a growing injury list. As a result, many are writing off the Green Machine’s chances of ending a 26-year premiership drought this year.
Another major point of discussion is the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s south-western suburbs, which could force the entire competition to be shifted north to Queensland should the outbreaks get worse. Still, a crowd of up to 10,000 will be permitted to watch this match, though this could change.
Back at Moore Park for the first time this year, the Chooks should take the points and continue their march to a third straight premiership.